Caring for your Mental Wellness during COVID-19
Whether you are a person prone to stress, worry, and feelings of anxiousness, or not, you have likely felt the impact of the COVID-19. The world as we know it, changed almost overnight once the Pandemic was declared. Given the swift changes to almost every aspect of the way you live, it is normal if you are experiencing increased level of stress. In 2019, it was reported that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental illness each year.
Telling you that it is normal to feel the way you do and that you far from alone in your battle isn't likely to make the feelings go away. There are endless articles and guides to help you through this time, and this article is no different. These are just words on a page waiting for you to apply and take action on. I am not a believer of relying on "luck" or "hope" for things to get better. I am a believer in taking action to improve your own situation and to help support those around you. Here are some helpful strategies that if applied, this kind of HOPE could help make the stresses of COVID-19 a little more manageable.
Honesty About Your Circumstances
The first step in getting anywhere with any goal you have in life is to get honest about your current place. By taking time to evaluate, identify, and recognize what you are feeling you can set in motion everything else. In other words, if you want to better cope with the stress and other emotions surfacing from COVID-19, you must first be able to label the emotions. Here are some common symptoms that often surface in times like these:
· Fear or worry, specifically about your own health
· Increase of regular symptoms of a pre-existing mental health concern
· Worsening of health conditions
· Changes in sleep patterns (more or less sleep than usual)
· Difficulty concentrating
· Overwhelming sense of worry for loved ones
· Increased fatigue, tiredness, or general lack of energy
· Irritability, quick to anger, loss of patience
· Increase use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
· Marital and relational problems
Many people get good at recognizing the signs but fail to do anything about it. Ever heard the saying, “Knowledge is Power”? Well, it is not. But it is a great beginning. Knowing your feelings and recognizing your symptoms of stress is needed, but the work has just begun. The key is to take your awareness and turn it into action.
One of the benefits of the Coronavirus, in my opinion, is that it is bringing mental health into a brighter light and hopefully encouraging more people to be open about their personal struggles. The more people that are open about their struggles, the more we can all feel connected and less isolated in our Pandemic experience. As you add your voice to your experience, you give people permission and validation to experience theirs more openly. Read Amanda's powerful story here.
Options and Opportunities to Change
One of the most helpful skills that one can develop, and one that I spend a lot of time in therapy with my own clients, is to determine what things you can control and what things you cannot control. This is a prerequisite for the execution phase. When we spend time on things we cannot control it creates a greater sense of helplessness, hopelessness, worry, and stress.
There is safety and comfort in being able to both predict and have some control, or influence on a situation. When feelings of chaos, stress, worry, and anxiety are present (many of the emotions that surface during a Pandemic), people are likely to try to control everything out of desperation. This is most commonly seen in behaviors like hoarding behaviors e.g. toilet paper, food, cleaning supplies, water, etc. So what you are witnessing, or experiencing, is an attempt to restore emotional control.
Sometimes doing too much to cope with stress is just as harmful as doing nothing at all, as it produces elevated stress responses and increased anxiety. Simplify the process by drawing a line down the middle of a paper and begin making a list of all the things in your life you have control over; the things you can do, say, watch, eat, read, think, etc. The other side of the paper is the list of things that you have no control over such as predicting the future, how others act, what they say, if they follow guidelines for social distancing, washing of hands, or mask wearing. You can’t control what they do but you can control what you choose to do.
I like to look for “the one thing”. Of all the things you can control in your life and your routine, what is the one thing that will continue to be effective and bring you comfort and stability during these times? And on the other side, what is one thing that is not working for you right now that by releasing it (because you can’t control it) will help improve your mindset?
Tip: Begin by searching your own past for times you effectively coped with stressful situations. Using the same, or similar, tools now may also be effective strategies today.
Here are some helpful ways of coping:
· Go for a walk, move your body
· Practice breathing techniques
· Read a book
· Start a Gratitude Journal
· Provide service to others
· Watch a movie
· Listen to music
· Get outside
· Call a friend or family member
· Write a letter
Plans For Creating Change
One of my favorite quotes of all time says, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Nobody really sets out towards a goal or begins the day with the intent to fail at what they do. However, there are many days that we have all sat down at the end of the day and did not finish the day like we wanted to. This is not always because we didn’t have the desire or put in the effort. It is most often because we lacked a specific plan to accomplish those goals.
Every decision you have to make during the day takes energy an accountability away from you. Unless you are some kind of superhero, you begin the day with a limited amount of energy. Finding ways to save your energy and placing accountability on other things or people, will save you throughout the day. Due to COVID-19, the state of the economy, and the majority of people still in quarantine, our capacity to handle stress is naturally lower than it might be. Having a plan will help save energy during the day and allow you to better cope with outside stressors, leaving you better able to care for yourself and your loved ones.
Return to your list of things you can control, and decide which things you want to attack during your day. Take time to make an outline or agenda the night before for what you will do the following day. When you wake up you will have a head start on the day and will have already accomplished one of the biggest and most important tasks of the day, having a plan!
Execute the Plan, Adjusting As Needed Along the Way
“Good planning without good working is nothing.” -Dwight D. Eisenhower
Time to put all the work and planning you’ve done into action. Sometimes this can be the most difficult thing to do. We are creatures of habit and if that habit has always been to numb out from negative emotions, run for cover when things get difficult, and stuff uncomfortable feelings deep down inside, the action part of what we are talking about will be hard. But you can do hard things! I know you can.
You have found your way to this site and read to the bottom of this article, not necessarily hard things, but a sign that you want to get better, or at least find ways to help your loved ones during this time. As a therapist with many years of experience I am telling you that what you have done so far, is more than most people are willing to do. Don’t stop now. Put some action behind your motivation and begin implementing the tools you have identified as being helpful to you.
Another one of my favorite quotes is by Susan David and she says, “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life”. You are likely experiencing some type of discomfort whether that be first hand, or just hurting for what others around you are going through. Welcome the discomfort, reframe those feelings, and allow them to push you to a new place in your life by taking new actions to cope with, and learn from them.
This information is educational in nature and is in no way a substitute for therapy. If you find that your signs are difficult to manage and causing major disruption in your daily life, please consider seeking professional help.
Craig Smith, LCSW is a therapist and owner of Greatest Day Mindset Counseling. He passionately serves and supports individuals and couples to improve the relationships they have with themselves and each other. He believes each person is the master of their own destiny and holds the power to create a life worth living, no matter their current circumstances.